tv 2020 ABC January 24, 2014 10:01pm-11:01pm PST
what has she done to your son's life? >> i think it took his innocence away. >> tonight, an all-new "20/20." crossing the line. the explosive case that broke wide open this week a sex scandal, middle schoolteacher and the boy that was brand new to school. tonight, the parents of that boy breaking their silence in a "20/20" exclusive. what really happened from the class room to the hotel room, to their own home. and for the first time the surveillance videos from inside the school, the hotel, and the selfie the teacher took with the boy of them kissing. >> she crossed the line. also tonight -- the beautiful daughter who looked
nothing like her father, suddenly, the entire family finds out why. >> it said they shared zero dna. duped at a fertility clinic, it wasn't dad's dna, it was the lab tech's. >> he gave me this evil smile. >> and tonight, is that worker the father to hundreds of children. tonight, the "20/20." and a personal note of our friend, our colleague and her brave journey, what elizabeth revealed today about her own private struggles. >> the amount of energy i expended keeping that secret was exhausting. >> tonight, elizabeth is back. here tonight, david muir and elizabeth vargas. let me just say it's great to have you back. >> it's great to be back. thank you for the support and owl of the viewers. i'll be talking a little bit later in the program, where i have been, the work i have done.
share >> a family of your member is here tonight. >> i know. >> this is very brave evening for you. we begin tonight w the headline that rocked the city of houston tonight the pretty middle schoolteacher and the boy. what followed woul be any parent's niekt mary. >> new developments. >> late today, she received her punishment. >> reporter: it is the story thrust back into the spotlight just this week. after the first headlines shocked much of houston, a parent's nightmare come true. >> he's a child. >> reporter: a married middle school teacher they had trusted with their son was having sex with him. and tonight, for the first time, the secret that began in room 308 is finally unraveling.
alex and jenny pallais will never forget that first day at memorial middle school, one of the top schools in houston. bringing their son to that front door, newly adopted, rescued from distant relatives from a life of poverty in costa rica. they began the adoption process when he was just 9 years old. it took five years to get him here. do you remember the trip to go get him, to bring him to america? >> oh, definitely, and he was so excited. like, "oh, my god, this is my new life." >> reporter: his new life in america. >> when we arrived to houston, he was so surprised, amazed at the buildings, how tall the buildings were. he was so happy to be at his new home. >> reporter: and soon, his new school. >> i walked jimmy to school. he was very nervous. >> reporter: do you remember your first day of school? >> i didn't like it. >> reporter: you walked into that school not speaking a word of english. >> no. i knew just hello and that's it. >> reporter: you said to jimmy, "you will survive this." >> oh, yes. >> reporter: it will get better.
>> it will get better. >> it will get better. >> reporter: this boy came to america with big dreams, of playing soccer, of college one day. one of his first trips, to nasa, with his new parents. this is the young face of the boy who was also getting help at school. there was an english teacher assigned to give him that extra help with his classes. 28-year-old kathryn camille murray, who was married. some of the boys thought ms. murray was pretty. do you remember the first time you met her? >> yes. >> reporter: was she nice? >> yes, she was nice. she started helping me with my home work. >> reporter: he found comfort in her classroom. you would take all your other classes and then you would go to her at the end of the day for help or sometime during the day for class? the teacher and student were growing closer. when do you start hearing about miss murray? >> we went to the open house and i say, "hello, miss murray, i'm jimmy's mom." and immediately she looks at me and says, "oh, jimmy's my favorite student. he's so well behaved."
sflr really? that that struck you as strange? >> i thought it was kind of strange. >> reporter: and what was jimmy saying about miss murray at home? >> oh, she's so pretty. and i say, yeah, she's a pretty lady. >> hey, every kid goes through that, has a crush on a teacher. >> reporter: so, you're thinking this is our adolescent son. >> this is an adolescent. >> reporter: "with a crush." >> son with just a simple crush, that's it. we thought nothing of it. >> reporter: and in all of his classes, jimmy is getting as and bs. >> it was like, okay, so she's actually doing good for him. helping him. >> reporter: but there was more. at school jimmy says there was something about the way she would look at him. when you would walk into that room, would she smile? >> she looked at me different. >> reporter: she looked at you differently? >> yes. >> reporter: is that when you sensed that she had feelings for you, too? >> uh-huh, yes. >> reporter: before christmas break, he writes a note revealing his love for his teacher. but then tears it up into pieces and gave it to her to throw away.
instead, she keeps the letter. and when he returns to school, a surprise. >> she said, "i read your letter." >> reporter: she put it back together. >> yes, and she told me, "i really like you, for real." and she told me, "i know, but we can't have anything." >> reporter: she told you, you couldn't have anything? jimmy is staying after school nearly every day now. then one afternoon he doesn't come home from school. his parents frantically begin looking for him through the empty hallways, everywhere. even room 308, his father finds the custodian. >> we saw the custodial lady. and she said, oh yes, they were just here. they left. >> reporter: there was no sign of him. suddenly jimmy appears at home. >> holding his arm like this. >> with blood, yes. >> he couldn't. he had no words. and as soon as he spoke, he just started crying. >> reporter: he would cry for nearly an hour, and then offer a story. jimmy told his parents he'd been in the car with ms. murray and
they had an argument. >> he told us he was in the car and jumped out of the car. >> so he's like, "what happened?" and the only thing he said was, "i told her that i like her." >> and my wife and i are looking at each other, "okay, this sounds like a lover's quarrel." >> reporter: they immediately reach out to ms. murray. but she mentions nothing about jimmy being in her car. so at that moment, you think there's something going on. >> she is lying. >> reporter: they tell ms. murray their son needs to be taken out of her class. weeks go by. life at home returns to normal. every night. >> every night. >> reporter: you all sit down at dinner table? >> we're at the dinner table. >> reporter: and he'd stop talking about ms. murray. >> he'd stopped talking about ms. murray. >> we thought it was over. >> reporter: but it was far from over. they were now talking on facebook. jimmy says he messaged ms. murray that he wanted to kiss her. and that she replied, "i want to see that." she wanted you to kiss her? >> yes. monday i came to my school early
and i went straight to her and i kiss her. when i stopped kissing her i walk to my first class. >> reporter: you were thinking to yourself you had to get back to her. >> yes. >> reporter: so you went back to her and you asked her how she felt about what happened. >> yes, and she told me, "okay, i want you to kiss me again." so that's when i kiss her again. >> reporter: that's when it started. >> yes. >> reporter: physically. did she ever say to you, "this is wrong?" >> after i kiss her. >> reporter: and tonight revealed for the first time here on "20/20" school surveillance tapes showing the teacher meeting privately in her classroom. behind closed doors, again and again, with the middle school student. she can be seen scanning the hallway, sometimes walking out with jimmy. other days they leave in different directions. while at home, what jimmy's parents think is a welcome sign, the school dance. and jimmy wants to go with the friends he's now made. no sign of ms. murray. and are you hoping that jimmy's going to find a girl his own age to have a crush on? >> of course. >> of course. >> reporter: but the girl waiting at the dance, ms. murray, across the street from the school. in the church parking lot. his dad had no idea.
>> i dropped him off and he saw me leaving. and then he moved on alert to meet her across the street. >> reporter: and she's waiting, in of all places, the church across the street. >> yes. >> reporter: so, you would talked to miss murray during the day. you said, "my dad's gonna bring me to the dance." and the two of you had a plan. >> yes. >> reporter: the boy she'd been warned to stay clear of, she was now taking away from that school dance. she had her own playlist. tonight, "20/20" obtaining the video, the images the night she checked into a nearby hotel. then bringing her teenaged student through that side door. did anything happen? >> yes. we have sexual relations. >> reporter: you had sex with her? >> yes. >> reporter: a secret the teacher helped jimmie keep. but not for long. suddenly, a disturbing phone call from the principal. >> he confided in another teacher that he had kissed miss murray. >> reporter: that "i kissed miss murray." >> yes. that's correct. >> reporter: they took selfies. pictures of themselves kissing. and tonight, for the first time
here, we see them. they would become a key part of this case. then another major blow. jimmy and his mother sitting together, when suddenly her phone goes off. she'd let jimmy borrow it. the teacher, miss murray, thought she was texting jimmy. but, the mother was receiving the texts. it read in part -- "you know i love you. i don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to be happy together. i miss you." now a mother looking down at her cell phone, stunned. >> i said, "jimmy, i need to go to the restroom, i have to put water on my face." and i say, "okay, this is not happening." >> reporter: and that mother had not even heard the worst of it. when we come back, all of this suddenly hits much closer to home. >> came to me and says, "mom, i have something to tell you." he says, "that smile you have on your face is going to go away when i tell you this." >> reporter: you won't believe where this goes next. it's a stationery and gifts store. anything we purchase for the paper cottage goes on our ink card. so you can manage your business expenses and access them online
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shame filled with unlikely faces. female teachers entrusted to protect, who instead preyed on their male students. names like debra lafave, convicted of abusing a 14-year-old. mary kay letourneau who had sex with her 12-year-old student. she famously told the world their love was real. >> i felt a very deep love for him. >> reporter: and tonight, at the head of that infamous class now, ms. murray. 28, married and sleeping with the boy who had just come to america with his new parents and his new dreams. and for that mom who so tried to protect him, it was all crashing down. that text that came to her phone. the teacher thinking she was texting jimmy saying i love you, i miss you, and now her younger son at home was troubled too. something wasn't right. so your youngest son isn't leaving his room? >> no. >> for days? >> reporter: and when the 12-year-old did emerge from his bedroom, she couldn't believe what he told her. >> fernando came to me and says,
"mom, i have something to tell you." i said, "what is it?" he says, "that smile you have on your face is going to go away when i tell you this." "she was here." i said, "what do you mean, she? who is she?" he says, "kathryn murray was here." and i said, "what?" he says, "mom, they had sex." >> reporter: the little brother had stumbled in on them while looking for the family dog. >> he says i saw her bra and i saw a couple of condoms on the floor. >> reporter: the teacher had been in their own house. this notion that this teacher would come into your home and get into your son's bed with him. >> oh, this is sick. >> reporter: this was now an outraged mother on a mission. >> and i say, i need to prove this person was in my house. that's it. she just crossed the line. i put some gloves and i took everything i can take from my son's bedroom, all the covers, pillows, and i called the police. and i say, okay, do the dna. let's prove she was here or not.
and it was positive. >> yeah, dna from those sheets proved that she was there. >> reporter: this is the same teacher you had called the school and said, keep her away from my son. >> yes. >> reporter: the same teacher they had once thanked for helping their son who spoke so little english. >> i kept sending e-mails. thank you for taking care of my son. >> reporter: armed with that dna the case moves quickly. 15-year-old jimmy and his 12-year-old brother suddenly swept into it and sitting across from investigators. jimmy determined to protect his teacher. so you've been brought to a room where investigators were asking you what happened. >> yes. my brother went first and then me. so i went there and i started lying. i start saying, i just kiss her. >> reporter: the investigator said to you they already knew the truth? >> yes. and i say, okay. and i start telling the truth. i say, yes, i have relationship
with her. and we have sex. >> reporter: ms. murray is quickly arrested and charged with sexual assault of a child. she's released on bail but ordered to stay away from jimmy, and there is relief at jimmy's house. he's now back at school, captain of the soccer team, and the family is back at the dinner table. months would go by, he begins to open up to his mother. he started to tell you piece by piece how soon -- >> details. very hard details for a mom to hear. >> reporter: he tells her that it wasn't just their house or the hotel. that the sex had all started in that classroom, room 308. and not only does he tell his mom, he tells police, who start scouring that surveillance video looking for evidence. and there it is. jimmy, leaving ms. murray's classroom on the afternoon he says they first had sex. just six minutes later, watch as ms. murray coming out of that same room. >> the school surveillance showed that they were leaving her classroom on tuesday,
february 7th, at 5:15 p.m. and the school records showed that schools regularly dismissed at 3:30 p.m. >> reporter: ms. murray is now charged with two more counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of an improper relationship with a student and she is ordered now to where an ankle bracelet. and as the months go by those parents are learning more about how they say ms. murray lured their son in. jimmy's dad reads to me the notes, prosecutors say, the teacher wrote to him. so, this is a poem she wrote to your son? >> that is correct. >> reporter: and what does it say? >> it says, because of you i feel. i write. i see. i know. i understand. i crave. i desire. i hope. i learn. i love. and because of you i do not hate myself. >> this is from the teacher-- >> this is from-- >> to your son?
>> reporter: it was back on, jimmy secretly started seeing ms. murray. >> yes. >> but when you saw her? >> yes. all the feeling that i have for her came back. >> reporter: his parents now suspect, even with that ankle bracelet, and facing a possible 20 years in prison, ms. murray was still toying with their son's emotions. they hire a private investigator to follow him. and that very night, sitting out front, the investigator sees jimmy leave through a window in the middle of the night. a friend driving him. that investigator taking us back along that fateful route. >> i was following him on the freeway and i'm thinking, wow, this is really happening. those parents knew exactly what they were saying. >> reporter: they knew this teacher hadn't stopped. >> i said, okay. >> reporter: the private eye suddenly finding herself in front of ms. murray's father's house. how quickly do you call houston police?
>> once i saw jimmy pull up and go inside, i picked up the phone and called hpd and told them i was working on a case involving ms. murray and they recognized the name instantly. >> reporter: she calls jimmy's parents, too. >> as we're driving to ms. murray's father's house i'm calling the police. i'm saying, i'm the father. this is the case number. and when we got there, there were seven police cars. >> reporter: now the parents, the private eye, and the police in a dramatic confrontation surrounding the house, guns drawn. the middle school teacher and the 15-year-old inside. >> they got on the bullhorn and said, miss kathryn murray, this is the police-- >> she was not opening the door. >> houston police. open the door. >> when we come back. to just...watch.er take but something about spending this time together, sailing past ancient glaciers in alaska... talking under a universe billions of years old... makes you realize how old time is and how short life is.
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>> reporter: the story that began in classroom 308 in this houston middle school involving the 28-year-old married ms. murray, and the student she met at 14, the beginning of the school year was about to take another dramatic turn. the adopted boy who spoke not a word of english was getting help from her, and soon much more inside that classroom. prosecutors say, she was writing love notes to the boy.
>> alex write with me, you already my muse. i think we could create something great together. >> reporter: you're already my muse she says? >> yes. she's providing an illusion to him. she's given him a fantasy. >> reporter: but now that fantasy was meeting reality. the teacher in a standoff with police, caught at her father's house with her teenage student inside. the home surrounded, ms. murray has no choice but to give herself up. >> reporter: were you there? >> yes. >> reporter: when she came out of that house? >> yes. >> oh, yeah, we were there. i wanted to make sure she'd see us. >> reporter: was she in handcuffs? >> oh, yeah. >> she was in handcuffs. >> reporter: finally, for the parents, relief that ms. murray locked up and away from jimmy but then the new challenge, a son who was falling into a dangerous depression feeling he was the one guilty for putting the teacher there. were you having suicidal thoughts? >> yes. a lot. >> reporter: why? what were you thinking? >> that maybe if i was going to kill myself they forgot about
this and -- >> reporter: you were thinking if you killed yourself everyone would forget about this? >> yes. >> reporter: alex, what's the hardest part for you? >> you're dropping off your kid at a psychiatric ward. and he's trying to kill himself and he believes his life is worthless. you feel so helpless. it's a feeling that no parent should go through. >> reporter: tonight, jimmy says he is doing better. telling me he can finally smile again. do you now see that there's a future? >> i know that there's a future. >> reporter: you know there's a future. and late this week the future of ms. murray decided. former teacher in houston was sentenced -- >> former teacher learned her fate today. >> reporter: the blonde teacher who the boys in school once thought was pretty enters the
she's already pleaded guilty and now about to learn her fate. >> i think she crossed the line as far as you could go it's a huge a violation of trust. all of us parents have the right to know when we send our children to school. that they're not going to just learn that they're going to be safe. >> reporter: the judge sentencing ms. murray. she'll spend one year in jail and then probation. she was told cannot see jimmy and she gave up her teaching license. she will also have to register as sex offender. but then everyone saw that smile to her family as she left the court. and when jimmy's parents sitting right there heard one year in jail they were aghast. >> had this been a 27-year-old man abusing a 15-year-old girl the judgment in there would have been completely different. >> reporter: what has she done to your son's life? >> i think it took his innocence away that was his first time having sex, robbed him of his childhood. >> reporter: ms. murray, her
family and her defense team have repeatedly turned down requests from 20/20 to talk about the case. they cited her ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder. her attorney saying only this as he left the courthouse. >> we wish to respect the feelings of the family to keep this private. >> reporter: what's been the hardest part for you? >> it's, like, you had the boy with all the dreams and then you have a boy, thinking that his life is over, so instead of looking at him, going to soccer game and being so happy this is not in your life. we brought you here to be happy, to have a future. >> reporter: they have repeatedly told their son he should have never crossed that line and that regardless of what that teacher told him, and wrote to him in those notes, none of it was right.
do you still love her? >> yeah. >> reporter: in the same way? >> no. >> reporter: do you think you'll see her again one day? >> maybe. >> reporter: tonight, with one year in jail for that teacher, there is still fear at jimmy's house. the same teacher who first met jimmy around the time this photo was taken his first trip to nasa in his first few weeks of school. that young face now forever changed. and a mom who tonight says she'll never give up trying to protecting her son. >> and we don't know what is going to happen, and that's the biggest fear i have. >> reporter: your biggest fear is that she -- >> he is still a child and he was a child. and that's what we're asking for, justice. we thank those parents for sharing their story with us. what do you make of that teacher's sentence tonight. tweet us. hundreds of parents who put their trust in a fertility
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how did a beautiful girl grow up with loving parents and have so little in common with them not their looks or skills and that's just the start of a mystery, now being solved and all leading back to a strange man in a fertility clinic. a man who could have deceived hundreds of families in the worst possible way. here's cecilia vega. >> reporter: it started off as a hobby -- researching family history. so it gets addictive? >> yes, and boy, did i get bit by the bug. >> reporter: but what pam branum uncovered would reveal an unthinkable secret about her 21-year-old daughter -- it involves a fertility clinic and a monster unleashed from the
grave. >> it shakes your world, absolutely, because everything that you knew to be true, all of a sudden wasn't. >> you know, you're like, pinching yourself, going, "this is the worst dream i have ever had. i am gonna wake up." and it didn't happen. >> reporter: it happened. >> it happened. >> reporter: it happened in salt lake city. newlyweds john and pam branum are trying to start a family with no success. so, as a last resort they go to a fertility clinic here on the campus of the university of utah. a friendly lab technician shows them a photo collage above his desk, of babies conceived by artificial insemination. >> and, you know, i just looked at those pictures and i thought, "this is gonna be it!" maybe this is gonna happen for us. >> reporter: but something about the lab tech doesn't sit right with john. >> i remember handing him the sperm specimen and he gave me this, just sort of evil smile. it just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. i thought, "whoa!"
>> reporter: john's reaction is soon forgotten, though, with the arrival nine months later of a beautiful baby girl, annie. >> reporter: flash through the years and the memories. >> she's musically-inclined, and we always kind of wondered where that came from. >> reporter: annie grows into a beautiful, bright young woman, a college whiz-kid who studies astrophysics and surprises her parents with her gift for math. >> i barely made it through calculus 1. well, in annie's second year of college she was doing calculus 3, making as, and i'm thinking there's a recessive gene at work there, right? >> reporter: with her nest now empty, pam picks up a hobby and gets hooked on researching the family tree. >> she would be up to 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning doing this. >> reporter: these days anyone can stick a swab inside their cheek, go online, and for a few
bucks, discover relatives and health histories they never knew they had. pam branum swabbed the whole family. >> i thought it was really interesting how it tells you about your health. it tells you where you come from. >> reporter: as expected, when the results come back, pam finds that annie shares 50% of her mom's dna. but what about her dad? >> and it said that they shared zero dna. i was in a panic. you know, i was in a complete panic. >> annie walked through the door, didn't say a word, gave me a big hug, started sobbing. >> i think it took a very long time for it to sink in. >> reporter: what was it that sunk in? >> trying to comprehend what it meant that he wasn't my biological father. and then, who is? >> reporter: the branums says for months they couldn't get answers from the university. it would take a dna detective to get to the bottom of it. >> they wanted to know what her biological heritage was on her
paternal side. and i'm well known for doing that. >> reporter: finding biological fathers is a specialty of cece moore, a genetic genealogist in southern california. desperate for answers pam sends her an e-mail. >> this is right up my alley. >> reporter: she tells pam to send annie's dna to multiple online dna databases. >> and in this type of work, we always say if we can find a second cousin, or a predicted second cousin, we're pretty much in business. we can usually solve the case. >> reporter:: moore's hunch pays off and the plot thickens with a single match between annie's dna and this total stranger in minnesota, carla evans. what this retired school secretary knows will blow open the whole story. >> she asked me if i had a relative that might have donated sperm. and, i said, "yes, i did." >> and i said, "well, can you tell me where he, he lives?" >> i said "well, he lived in salt lake city a lot, and i know he used to work for a fertility clinic there." >> and i thought, "well, okay. that's it."
>> reporter: that relative was carla's cousin, tom lippert. pam and carla exchange photos and suddenly pieces of the puzzle start falling into place. >> when i first saw annie's graduation picture -- it looks almost identical to tom's graduation picture. when i saw that photo, i just knew that tom was the father. >> reporter: she also recalls some things that might explain annie's interest in music and her college ambitions. >> well, tom was very talented. he was very intelligent. he went to notre dame law school. he was also musical. >> and i looked at those pictures and i recognized him. >> reporter: you recognized him? >> he was the man at the clinic. i could picture all those baby pictures behind him, the ones that he was so proud of. >> he had made a big deal out of the fact that, "these were all of the families that i've helped conceive." >> reporter: this is so creepy! picturing him sitting next to that wall, is chilling.
>> and i just thought to myself, "this wasn't a mistake. this was done intentionally." >> reporter:: but the story dead-ends in a cemetery. tom lippert died in 1999. case closed until, that is, carla evans drops a bombshell. >> she said "pam, there's something i need to tell you and i want to be totally up front with you about whom my cousin was. >> tom kidnapped this young woman from purdue university. >> reporter: that's right. tom lippert was a convict. a kidnapper who gained national attention in 1975, sentenced six years in prison for abducting a young woman. the details would unhinge everyone. he held her for three weeks, sometimes in a metal studded box. >> for me, that was as devastating as finding out. >> reporter: after getting out of prison, lippert married a nurse, jean, and settled in this quiet salt lake neighborhood.
he terrorized the neighbor kids. >> we were so scared. we would walk on the other side of the road. >> reporter: tessa murdoch says lippert threw rocks, broke windows and even made the local news. >> did you throw rocks? >> absolutely not! >> i never knew why he hated kids so much. >> reporter:: ironic, because hating kids didn't stop him from conceiving them. swapping his sperm for that of patients while working as a lab tech in the fertility clinic at the university of utah. at the time, the clinic did not do criminal background checks on prospective employees. >> we are deeply sorry for any anxiety this has caused our patients. >> reporter: finally, this week the university admitted that many lab records were destroyed. they can only guess how many sperm samples were handled, or mishandled, by tom lippert. cases could soon be coming out of the woodwork. >> i would say thousands, that's an estimate.
of people who might be affected. >> reporter: dna detective cece moore created a blog that's already gotten responses from at least 5 more possible lippert offspring who'd be annie's half-siblings. you think there are other families out there right now, who were duped just like you? >> i know it. i know it without a doubt. >> i wouldn't wish this on any other family. >> reporter: still, the branums know their turmoil is far outweighed by the one beautiful blessing that came out of it -- their daughter annie. >> what have you learned? about yourself. about your family? >> that we're just the same. >> my dad is my dad, regardless of whether or not he's biologically related to me. he's the one who raised me. when we return -- elizabeth vargas speaking out for the very first time. >> i started thinking, well, you know, i'll only drink on weekends, i'll only drink two glasses of wine a night. >> battling and overcoming addiction. next. ard -
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hi. yo. cold? nasty cold. dayquil severe. nyquil severe. thanks dude. [ female announcer ] walgreens. get in. get out. feel better. select dayquil severe and nyquil severe. $11.99 at walgreens. know a very personal note about my friend who's back with us after a brave journey. >> reporter: this morning, on "good morning america," elizabeth's return. >> we are thrilled to be welcoming back elizabeth vargas to abc news. >> reporter: after bravely tackling a very personal struggle, she shared with viewers something she knows many families have also faced. >> i guess the best way to do this is to get right to it. >> uh-huh. >> you're an alcoholic.
>> i am. i am an alcoholic. it took me a long time to admit that to myself. it took me a long time to admit it to my family, but i am, and i think part of the reason it's hard to admit it is i had a lot of shame and a lot of guilt about it. >> it must have taken so much effort to keep that secret? >> the amount of energy i expended keeping that secret and keeping this problem hidden from view, hidden from my family, hidden from friends, from colleagues, was exhausting. >> reporter: and when elizabeth took time off to get help, her private battle suddenly became a very public one. >> i didn't choose to go public with this. somebody else made that decision for me. but, in hindsight and in retrospect, maybe it's a blessing because it relieves me of that secrecy and that burden of walking around through life living behind a facade, which is what you do. >> reporter: she says the alcoholism stems in part from another struggle, one that has
shadowed her since childhood growing up in a military family, severe, crippling anxiety as a little girl that set in the day her father was called to duty in a faraway war. >> my dad went to vietnam when i was 6 years old, and i had panic attacks every single day when my mom would leave for work. >> reporter: and her mother told me, she remembers it, too. did you see the anxiety attacks as a little girl? >> yes, i clearly saw them. and every morning when i would leave to go to work, she would cry and beg me not to go. and it was hard for her. it was heartbreaking for me. her daddy was gone, and she didn't want her mommy to leave, so i think the anxiety started then and probably carried with her forever in one form or another. >> reporter: even with her steady hand at the anchor desk, lids beth now says the anxiety and panic were always close behind. >> and at some point along the way i dealt with that anxiety and with the stress that that anxiety brought by starting to drink, and it slowly escalated and got worse and worse.
i should've realized it was a problem way back when zachary, my oldest son, was born. and he used to call my nightly glass of wine "mommy's juice." i thought that was hysterical. it didn't occur to me that that was a problem. and it didn't really get to be a huge problem until the last few years. and i actually started reporting on it. i've done, like, a half dozen "20/20" hour-long specials on drinking, specifically women and drinking and mothers and drinking. these women who opened their lives to us. >> reporter: elizabeth says over time, she realized she shared something in common with many of the brave people she had interviewed. >> you make all sorts of deals with yourself. i started thinking, "well, you know, i'll only drink, you know, on weekends. i'll only drink, you know, two glasses of wine a night. i'll only drink, you know, i won't drink on nights before i have to get up and do 'good morning, america.'" but those deals never work, and you're only fooling yourself.
>> reporter: perhaps fooling herself, but she says not her husband, singer/songwriter marc cohn. >> my husband knew i had a problem. >> what'd he say? >> "you have a problem. you're an alcoholic." and it made me really angry, really angry, but he was right. and it took me a long time to finally accept that. it took a long time. i mean, denial is huge for any alcoholic, especially for any functioning alcoholic. >> reporter: she says the denials all came to an end on a saturday afternoon when she arrived at a shoot for work. >> when i got out of the car, i realized, "what am i doing? i am in no shape to do this. i need -- " and that's when i knew, "i need to get help." i went to a rehab that specializes in treating trauma. they don't just deal with drinking or drug use, in the case of others there. they deal with why you're drinking.
what is it you're trying to cover up? what is it you're trying to numb? >> reporter: a devoted mom, she was very aware of the toll on her family, on her boys. >> and we explained that i was going away to get better. and they came and visited me, and they got to see where i was staying and meet the doctors there and ride a horse. >> reporter: she came home before doctors wanted her to, and soon realized she had more work to do. >> and i went back and finished and stayed until the doctors there said i was ready to come back. and i, you know, this isn't what i want to be known for. but i'm really proud of what i did. and i feel so much better now, not having to walk around with this enormous burden. >> reporter: and this evening, also watching her, too. her parents, mom and dad, rooting for their her daughter
in her brave fight to get back. you've been with elizabeth as she returns to work this week. and you've seen how all of us are quite proud of her. and i was just curious how a mom feels watching her return? >> and coming forward like this is not easy. and i think we're especially proud of that. >> reporter: you know, she said that she never wanted to be the face of this. but that if in doing this she could help just one person -- >> you know, david, we heard from so many people after it became public what she was dealing with. we were really astonished. and we're very proud of her for saying, "i'm going to talk about it and tell people about it and tell people what i've been through, how it happened, and how i got there, and how i'm back here." >> reporter: and then get back to work. >> get back to work. >> reporter: in typical elizabeth fashion. >> in typical elizabeth fashion, right, yes. >> it's always embarrassing to have the entire world know your deepest, darkest secret. and yet, at the same time i think it'll be a relief. i think in the long term, it will be ultimately a blessing because i can be free about it. i'm not hiding anymore, and that's hard, but it's also a relief.
so thaw yo can be free about it. you heard me talk to your mom right there. you had never wanted to be the face of really anything like this, but you said this, it was powerful that if you could help one person it would be worth it. >> i didn't seek help for a long time because i had so much shame and guilt around this. i'm amazed by how many people reached out and said they have a family member or a loved one that has suffered from this disease. it's rampant. >> you is a family here, too. >> i know, thank you so much. when we come back here tonight --
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poppy, are you okay? no, i over did it on the mole. david, i know you have been working with diane sauer on a very important hour on kids and guns. >> we're asking everyone at home, it's called "young guns." 1 in every 3 homes in america have guns in. we asked, do you know where your kids are playing? this is an hour, that hopefully it save a child's life. is it possible when your child goes to your friend's home, there's a gun, not locked away, so tempting. 1.7 million american children live in a home with an unlocked and loaded firearm, do you know what's in your neighbor's closest? did you ever ask? no matter what you think you have done to keep your kids safe from accidental shootings, it hasn't prepared you for this.